Rottingdean: A potted history

Until 1928 Rottingdean was a separate entity on Brighton’s eastern border. A large downland parish in the shape of a figure-eight, it had a populous coastal area and a compact village. This village housed the three separate strands of Rottingdean life: fishermen, farm-hands and wealthy ‘arts’ folk fleeing the smoke of London and the clamour of Brighton.

Famous residents of the village
High on the downland to the north of the village, beyond Woodendean (sic) Farm and Wick farm lay the depressing Warren Farm Industrial School for orphaned and homeless children.  During the late nineteenth century, Rottingdean was ‘discovered’ by the intelligentsia. A swathe of them, including Kipling, Burne Jones and Angela Thirkell, moved into the large houses that surrounded the picture book village green and duck pond. The future prime minister Stanley Baldwin (Kipling’s cousin) was married in St Margaret’s.

Bob Copper
The early twentieth century, when all this was about to change dramatically, is best seen through the eyes of Bob Copper (the world famous folk singer). He is a local, whose books on the area cannot be bettered for local colour and acute observation.

Suburban developments
On its western side, Rottingdean escaped being engulfed by Brighton and there is a fine cliff-top approach with a big black mill outlined on the ridge. However, suburban developments on the east carry the housing into the adjacent valley of Saltdean.

The village today
Rottingdean today is still well preserved and almost rural, with farmland on two sides and the English Channel on the other. It is a favourite for afternoon visits to ‘tea-shoppes’, the museum, and local antique shops or simply to feed the ducks on the pond. It also has a good beach and ample supply of pubs!

Needless to say housing is expensive and Rottingdean is a great retirement area with many vigorous village organisations. Do not miss the Xmas shopping evening when the village street is free of cars, bands play, and the shops and cafes stay open late.

Comments about this page

  • I was brought up in the Rottingdean area before and during the war and went to the old flint-walled school. Many a day was spent down in the shelter that was built uder the playground. My father was superintendent of the water pumping station at Balsdean where we stayed in the company house. Many a tale I could tell of those days. I sometimes wonder what happened to all my school friends, my first girl being one whose name was Jenny Tester. One of my parents’ friends was Margaret Ward who stayed at 13, Newbarn Road, Woodingdean and wrote a book about the area called ‘One Camp Chair in the Living Room’. She passed away some time ago however. Best regards.

    By Hamish Baxter (05/12/2004)
  • My daughter, a Kiwi (New Zealander), has just taken up a six month house lease in the village and says the locals are very friendly. Thanks.

    By Bob Cuming (29/09/2005)
  • I found the comments by Hamish Baxter about Rottingdean very interesting. I vaguely remember the name and I certainly remember Jenny Tester. Margaret (Margo) Ward’s husband, Jack, also worked at the Balsdean pumping station. He sometimes worked in my father’s electrical shop at weekends.

    By Haydn Williams (06/01/2006)
  • I too went to the old flint-walled school from 1937 to 1943. Mr Dutton was the headmaster. If Hamish Baxter reads this, my email is: Could have been there when I was. I now live at Hailsham.

    By Don Williams (15/08/2006)
  • I remember Jennifer Tester and I met her in October 2006 at the village school reunion. Because I was younger than her, I admired her and my party piece at home was to dress up and announce to everyone that “I was Jennifer Tester”. If anyone remembers my mother Nancy Copper she is still alive and well at 93.

    By Pauline Attridge [nee Copper] (03/02/2007)
  • Angela Thirkell never lived in Rottingdean – until she was dead! You are giving incorrect information.

    By Helena Wojtczak, Author of Notable Sussex Women (14/02/2007)
  • Further to the above comments, I remember some names and certainly Hayden sticks out and Don I think was in the class before me. The Penwarden twins and ‘Fish’, the fishmonger’s son, were all pals of mine. If Jenny is still around could someone give her my regards. If any of you would like to get in touch my email is as follows:

    By Hamish Baxter (18/11/2007)
  • Hamish – I also grew up in Warren Farm School during the war years. If you have any information or stories you like to share with me, I would love to hear from you, and we can swop tales. Wish you and yours a very merry Christams and New Year.

    By George Bowley (25/12/2007)
  • Can anyone tell me anything about Victoria Cottage in Rottingdean. My husband’s great grandmother and grandmother lived there from 1911 onwards. There name was Van Gelder. Any info on house or family much appreciated. Trying to trace the family history.

    By F Green (26/01/2009)
  • Hi George Bowley. You grew up in Warren Farm School, I went to school there many years later, I have a relic from your school that you would  be amazed to see. Get back to me on I have many questions for you, if you’re up for it.

    By M.L.Phillips (16/02/2009)
  • Hello George Bowley. You grew up in Warren Farm School, can you e.mail me at

    By M L Phillips (18/02/2009)
  • My father Bill Stevens went to Warren Farm school. I remember when I was a girl in the 1950s, 60s, I used to walk with him to Rottingdean and along the path into the back of the school. We used to attend the remembrance service at the church there. Later in 1968 to 70 I used to ride along the same track from Ovingdean to Warren Farm  as the young son of the band leader Ben Lion, who lived in Ovingdean, was found murdered. If anyone remembers any of this please leave details, especialy if anyone remembers my dad.

    By Sue Barber [nee Stevens] (11/06/2009)
  • I am putting up this message on behalf of my sister Eileen Watts (nee Newman) who married Ron Watts. His father also worked at the pumping station in Balsdean. She used to live in New Barn Road, a couple of doors along from Jenny Tester. She asks to be remembered to her if she is still around. Also to Pat Moppet from New Barn Road and Jean Moppet from Court Farm Road, and any others that may remember her. Thank You Phyll

    By On behalf of Eileen Watts (nee Newman) (26/02/2010)
  • Some interesting recollections above, but does anyone go much further back or have more information on Warren Farm Industrial School? Five of my ancestors (all girls from the Gates family) were all registered there as “inmates” (!) in the 1870s. I’d love to know more about them and the conditions at the school way back then. One of them eventually married and is my great-grandmother. Two others migrated to New Zealand and had a successful life. But why were they “inmates” and was it more workhouse than school?

    By Tony Berry (29/03/2010)
  • Hi, my grandmother’s father and uncle lived in Rottingdean around 1900. Does anyone have any information or know anyone who would about the racehorse trainer Richard Wheeler? He had his stables behind Burne Jones house and lived in Gothic House before selling it. Thank you.

    By Ellie (25/06/2010)
  • My great grandfather, grandfather, father and brother are all Richard Wheelers of Rottingdean. Take your pick!

    By Ros Chesher (nee Wheeler) (07/10/2010)
  • I will give your regards to Pat Moppett in a Christmas card as she is my cousin. My mum, Nancy Copper, is still alive and well and will be 97 in February.

    By Pauline Attridge (nee Copper) (17/10/2010)
  • I married Maureen Grigg in 1957 in St Margaret’s Church. We lived firstly in Eley Drive and later Falmer Road next to the shops of Meadow Parade. Maureen’s grandfather built Meadow Close, Eley Drive and Crescent. Maureen was born in Ditchling Road, Brighton, but spent all her childhood from a baby living in Eley Drive; apart from three or four years when she went to school in Germany just after the end of WW2.

    By Robert Coe (03/09/2011)
  • Maureen and Robert left Rottingdean in 1972 to live in Dublin, Ireland and Robert joined the Irish Times. We had two children, Stuart and Christopher, and four grandchildren, Ashling, Lauren, Andrew and James. They are Irish born to Irish mothers so the Coe family is now Irish, joining a tribe of Coes in the country, one of which was Secretary of the Southern Railways in Ireland. On our retirement we left Ireland as Maureen wanted to return to Brighton and took up residence in Kemp Town in a flat in a house once owned by her grandfather, a successful property developer of the 1920/30s who built Ely Drive, Ely Crescent, Meadows Close and estates in Portslade and Mile Oak. He built the whole of the street of Dudley Road in Brighton and there is a plaque on a house in that road of him and his wife. Our retirement was cut short by Maureen being taken suddenly very ill and dying in November 2008. She has returned to Ireland and is buried in a quaint, small cemetery in the grounds of a Victorian Church in Upper Calary, in the Wicklow mountains, County Wicklow at her request and to the surprise of all the family. Her last resting place is also a sanctuary for birds and deer, even sheep and cattle in the vicinity, away from traffic and only occupied by things that were very dear to her heart.

    By Robert Coe (07/02/2012)
  • I know so many of these people. Went to school with some, played soccer for the village with others, were neighbours with some. Hope my name will stir a few memories. Am currently living in Australia.

    By Peter Titchener (08/04/2014)
  • I remember Rottingdean in the 50s and watching football in the field next to the cricket pitch.  Evenings in The Plough and swimming from the prom during the summer.  Have a photograph of a lot of the crowd with Peter Titchener standing on the sea wall – this was taken about 1956. Am still in touch with many from those days.   My maiden name was Chapman and I lived in The Ridgway, married name is McEntee.

    By Maureen McEntee (10/12/2014)
  • Rottingdean has always been a place in our family’s hearts – my mother and aunt, Violet and Ivy, nee Mantell, told us that their father and grandfather, David Mantell and John Mantell, worked and lived at Balsdean Farm

    By Lynda Saunders Ryan (06/05/2015)

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